Tuesday, November 16, 2010

What's your frame of reference?

Your brain is an amazing thing in the way it helps us to make sense of everything around us. What we see, much of that detail is filled in by the brain so that we don't have to physically take in everything at once.

For eaxpmle I tinhk you can sitll raed tihs eevn thguoh the letetrs are all mxied up. Because the brain sees a whole, and fills in the details from what we remember. I notice it all the time when I try and read through my own writing - I miss the mistakes because I see what I intended to be there, not the mistakes that actually are there.

The brain doesn't like things that don't fit. Like looking at an optical illusion like the never ending staircase - look too long and your brain hurts because you know it's just not actually possible. Sometimes, however, that means our minds invent details that aren't there to make sense of something. Our brains construct a view of life.

For example, on my drive to work there is this part in the road where I am approaching a bend in the distance. Several times I've looked up there and thought I saw light reflecting of the white roof of what looks like a police car. It isn't - it is actually the gap through the branches of a tree - the light coming through against the dark branches in a slightly police car shape - up close it looks nothing like a police car. But from distance it doesn't look like a gap - so my brain wants fill in details and see a police car that isn't actually there.

Another time I was driving on a different road, still in the country, when up ahead something nearly made me have a heart attack. I had just seen a few minutes before what looked like a dead brown snake on the road. Now up ahead, for a moment, I could swear it looked like there was a giant python curled up in the middle of the road. Never mind that the thought is ridiculous. Never mind that there aren't exactly many pythons roaming free in South Australia. But for a second my brain, wanting to make sense of the unusual shape in front of me, saw a giant python. Only a second, and then I realised how silly it was.

And then up close I saw what it actually was - a man's flannel patterned shirt crumpled on the road. Up close it looked nothing like a python. Just a shirt.

(In my defence, the shirt did have a snake-ish pattern on it.)

Our brain is amazing - filling in details & making sense of things is an important function and helps us to see and understand the world around us. But sometimes that causes us to see things that aren't there. If we didn't have a frame of reference - such as knowing how unlikely it is to see a python in the middle of the road in South Australia - or the ability to get up close and check what we saw, then those false details become real to us and we believe them.

It's funny the conclusions we jump to....police cars & snakes.

The negative things. We see snakes and police around every corner waiting to get us when we look at the world as our frame of reference.

I was on the highway and have seen police there before making me worry and hope I wasn't speeding, so I see police everywhere. I see a snake on the road and remember the dangers in the bushes, and suddenly see a giant snake in the middle of the road.

What's your frame of reference? We're surrounded by a lot of negative things and sometimes those things become the standard we use to make sense of everything else.

Like when we're home alone and every shadow moves in the corners in the shape of a murderer because we watched that horror movie - or just the news. Like when we feel worthless because of one or two people who bullied us. When we think in stereotypes because we have fictional movies to compare life to. When we mistrust and dislike everyone because we take our view of the world from Today Tonight or Jerry Springer.

When something new comes along, something that seems unusual, our brain fills in the details from what it knows. When snakes and police (or lies, fears, prejudices...) fill our minds, they then also fill our view of life.

Philippians 4:8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things.

What fills your mind? Is it the lies, perversions and misconceptions of the world? Or is it the love, the word and the truth of God?

This doesn't mean looking at the world with rose coloured glasses, and glossing over the bad things that do exist. We can see them, like recognising when there really is a snake and we shouldn't go near it. But knowing snakes exist shouldn't make us afraid to leave the house. The problems in life shouldn't make us despair and feel out of control, or feel anxious and depressed, or make us forget about what is good in life. Or make us take our eyes off God.

It means having an accurate frame of reference - a moral compass, a conscience, or in other words the Word of God & the Holy Spirit - so when new things come along, your brain fills in details from God, not your own brain.


  1. I often think of the verse "To the pure, all things are pure..." Titus 1:15 ;)

  2. I often think of the verse "To the pure, all things are pure..." Titus 1:15 ;)